As a former UNLV starting quarterback, Bob Stockham will be disappointed if the Rebels and Wisconsin don’t continue their football series beyond 2011.
As the son-in-law of the late Tom “Big Dog” Wiesner, the former Badgers fullback instrumental in founding the series between his alma mater and his adopted home team in the 1980s, Stockham will be a little sad, too.
“Wisconsin was where he was from, where he went to college. But UNLV was like his baby,” said Stockham, who played quarterback for the Rebels in 1992 and 1993 and has been married to Wiesner’s daughter, Kari, for nine years.
“I don’t know what the challenges are (to keep the series going) and it’s gonna be tough, with all these changes. But we should do whatever we can to make it work.”
Stockham might not have to worry. Higher-ups in both camps already are trying to make it work.
Wisconsin’s 41-21 victory Saturday marked the ninth game in the series and the first at Sam Boyd Stadium that didn’t sell out. A flagging economy and tickets costing $75 might have been the biggest reasons for an attendance of 31,107, but the empty seats gave the impression this game isn’t as big a deal as it once was.
The Wisconsin marching band, for the first time, did not make the trip. Neither did the World’s Largest Grill, and Johnsonville bratwurst fans tailgating beforehand were none too pleased.
With conference affiliations changing daily and the Big Ten and Mountain West adding new members, fitting each other into the nonconference schedule won’t be easy.
No games between UNLV and Wisconsin are scheduled beyond next year, when the teams will play in Madison. But there are a lot of holes to fill on both teams’ future schedules. So, if there’s a will, perhaps there also will be a way.
“I’d like to keep it going,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said before the game. He wasn’t wearing socks.
“With our (Big Ten) expansion, a lot of things are up in the air. But we like coming out here.”
UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, who was wearing socks, had a one-word response when asked if the Rebels also were interested in extending the series.
“Absolutely,” he said.
■ THREE YARDS AND A HUNK OF CHEESE: Wisconsin’s first touchdown drive covered 80 yards in a bazillion plays and took approximately a day and a half. (Actually, it took the Badgers 14 plays and 7 minutes, 37 seconds to score.) While cheering in the press box is not permitted, several sports writers on tight deadlines bumped fists in silent appreciation of Wisconsin’s methodical offensive approach. The next time they had the ball, the Badgers went 46 yards in three plays and took just 1:13 off the clock. There weren’t as many fist-bumps in the press box.
■ DEVONTE CHRISTOPHER: One of the stated goals of first-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is to mend the fence that has allowed big-time local recruits to get away over the years. One who sneaked through the hole a couple of years ago had a huge game on the opening night of the season. DeVonte Christopher, the 2007 Review-Journal Player of the Year at Canyon Springs High, caught eight passes for 155 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run, in Utah’s 27-24 victory over 15th-ranked Pittsburgh on Thursday.
■ BRIGHAM YOUNG: The Cougars defeated Washington 23-17 on Saturday. Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy resisted the temptation to extend Bronco Mendenhall the automatic bid and complimentary Carrot Top tickets. Here’s guessing that New Mexico — which came in second at Oregon, 72-0 — probably won’t be hearing from her, either.
■ $85 TICKETS: If you tack on the auxiliary charges for ordering online, that’s roughly what a $75 ticket cost you for UNLV-Wisconsin. That also might explain why there were empty seats. Yes, Wisconsin is a marquee opponent. But with all respect due Al Toon, Alan “The Horse” Ameche and a bratwurst with grilled onions, I only paid $34 for U2 at Sam Boyd Stadium. And Bono and The Edge weren’t coming off a 5-7 season.
■ WISCONSIN BAND: Nothing against the classic local rock band Yellow Brick Road covering Cheap Trick and Journey hits, but it did not really seem like an official Wisconsin tailgate party without the Wisconsin marching band striking up a few choruses of “On, Wisconsin!” The $100,000 price tag for flying out those tubas and woodwinds was cost prohibitive in a dreadful economy. But as Alvarez said before the game, “If Tom Wiesner were still alive, he’d have found a way to get them here.”
■ MINUS YARDS: With 1:13 remaining in the first half, the Review-Journal sports staff had yet to gain a yard against the Wisconsin defense. The Rebels had minus 4 yards. With 1:08 to play in the first half, UNLV pulled to within 17-14. This is what you call fortuitous.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352.